Family disappointed in sentence 

By Debby Schamber – For The Record 

Joshua Latham, 28, of Mauriceville, was sentenced to five years in prison for failure to appear charges in Newton County when he failed to show up to face allegations of murdering Tami Higgenbotham in February 2015.

“It’s a sorry verdict,” said Linda Maudlin, Higgenbotham’s mother. “We are not satisfied.”

However, Maudlin admits it could have been worse and Latham could have gotten probation or lesser time in prison.

The trial began Monday with Latham pleading guilty to the charges, but chose to allow a jury of six women and six men to decide his punishment. He could have received up to 10 years in prison for the third degree felony charge. He was also eligible for probation.

Latham’s defense attorney, Dennis Horn, stated Latham failed to appear for the murder trial because he was “scared” and wanted to “spend more time with his family.”

Latham was discovered three days after he failed to appear by a team of officers behind a residence in Louisiana. He was dressed in camoflauge and covered in mud in a “wooded, swampy” area, according to Texas Ranger Bobby Smith.

Smith testified the whereabouts of Latham came from a tip from an anonymous caller.

Following Latham’s arrest two vehicles at the scene left the area. One of which was driven by Latham’s wife, Dusti. Officers conducted a traffic stop and located a 9mm pistol inside the vehicle.

During testimony, Catherine Sikora, of the Orange County Probation Office stated she had filed a motion to revoke his probation in Orange County and felt he belonged in prison. During his probation he violated the terms several times by failing drug tests, not reporting as required and not showing up to take random drug tests. He also was in Louisiana without permission.

“We do not think he deserves probation,” Ponthier said.

However, Horn, stated “there is no violence here, he just didn’t show up.”

Horn also referred to the cases in Orange County.

“That Orange County business is their business, not Newton County business. What they want to do is up to them,” Horn said. “Orange is trying to get you to do what they could not. The punishment must fit the crime.”

Horn began his closing arguments by placing a large, red “F” on his forehead. This was to symbolize “The Scarlet Letter” a story written by Nathanial Hawthorn in 1850. But, Horn told the jury the letter in this case was because Latham pled guilty his scarlet letter was now of a felon.

Horn also said Latham deserved probation because he stood and took responsibility for his actions of failure to appear.

Ponthier said he did take responsibility. But, for making a “joke of the legal system.”

Entered into evidence was what Ponthier referred to as reasons Latham was not a good candidate for probation. Latham had previous charges of wreckless driving, possession of marijuana and was placed on probation for resisting arrest and burglary of a habitation in Orange County.

The murder charges for Latham all began when the victim, Tami Higgenbotham, 41, of Vinton, left her residence headed to Orange. During the trip to Orange she had texted her sister, Staci Robinson, saying she was going to sell her phone to Latham. Higgenbotham wanted to upgrade her phone so she had decided to sell hers.

Around 1 p.m. Higgenbotham sent a text to her sister saying Latham wanted her to help him pick out wedding rings. By 1:30 the texts from Higgenbotham stopped.Knowing it was odd for her sister since she was “always connected”, Robinson became worried and tried over and over to call her but each call went straight to voice mail.

Robinson wondered what had happened to her and the pickup truck was later found at Blue Bird’s Fish Camp on Simmons Drive, but Tami was nowhere to be found.

Robinson showed a picture of her sister to people in the area. They told her they had seen Higgenbotham and she had gotten into a vehicle with Latham. However, when Robinson asked Latham if he had seen her sister, he denied ever meeting up with her.

Latham, who was wanted in connection with the disappearance of Higginbotham, was arrested in Maryville, Tn. Orange police contacted local officials in Maryville, and told them Latham had relatives in the area. Maryville police checked the relatives residence, and found Latham, along with Dusti and their two-week-old infant. He was held on charges he violated his probation.

During the interview with police, Latham told them where Higgenbotham’s body could be found. But, his stories on how the body got there changed many times and he claimed other people, such as a motorcycle gang and the Aryans were responsible.

Detectives went in search of the location north of Mauriceville where they found Higginbotham’s body in a heavily wooded, hunting lease in Newton County. Police said there were certain features on the body that matched descriptions of the missing woman. Further testing and autopsy results would reveal it was indeed her.

In the autopsy report written by Dr. Tommy Brown, he stated the cause of death was asphyxia due to external compression of the neck and the manner of death was homicide. In addition, according to the report, there were two post mortem abrasions on her right forehead area.

Ponthier said she dropped the charges because she was not ready for trial.

“I did dismiss it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be tried in the future,” Ponthier said.

Smith said during testimony he did not agree with the charges being dropped.